You Can’t Win!

Without fail, every year the Millennium Park Summer Film Series is one of my favorite summer activities, and in 2019 it simply has not failed to deliver.

I mean, how could you go wrong? Huge movie screen you can see from like 200 yards away, a $2.5M sound system that makes seating choice fairly irrelevant, and the picturesque view of the Chicago skyline on all sides. It’s a no-brainer.

Yesterday was the presentation of The Wiz, the 1978 film of the musical based upon L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Did You know the Wizard of Oz was written in Chicago?).” If you haven’t seen The Wiz, it’s an urban retelling if you will, much more soulful, with an all-black cast, featuring some of the biggest stars of the day, including Diana Ross, Nipsey Russell, and Michael Jackson.

Just to make it clear, the musical “The Wiz” was written by William F. Brown, who is white, and he hated the film adaptation.

I’m pretty certain that this was my first time seeing the Wiz as an adult (I’m assuming I last saw it when I was a teenager), and one of the moments of the film that absolutely captivated me was the musical number “You Can’t Win.”

Sung by Michael Jackson, whom received a boisterous ovation from the crowd when he appeared on screen, was originally written for the Broadway show, but was cut prior to opening night.

To quote Jackson himself,

“The song was about humiliation and helplessness – something that so many people have felt at one time or another – and the feeling that there are people out there who don’t actively hold you back as much as they work quietly on your insecurities so that you hold yourself back.”

I didn’t remember this particular scene at all, but you have to picture a woeful scarecrow, hanging on a pole in the middle of an empty lot, being teased by a pack of crows.

He begs to be let down, just for a little bit, to which they respond by telling him that his station in life is to be on that pole, and even if they let him down, he wouldn’t be able to walk anyway.

At that point, the crows insist that the scarecrow has forgotten the Crow Commandments, and demand he recite them.

  1. Thou shall honor all crows
  2. Thou shall stop reading all bits of paper and literature
  3. Thou shall never, never get down off of this here pole

Wait a minute!!! See, now this is where my adult brain kicked in.  “How sad is this???  My man has been bamboozled!”

Then the crows demand the he sing the crow anthem.

Now, as a fairly educated adult, I can see there’s a lot of subtext going on here.

Anyone who knows me knows that I like to research films, songs, whatever art.  I’m always interested in the back story of how a great piece of art came to be.

In the book Pimps, Wimps, Studs, Thugs and Gentlemen: Essays on Media Images of Masculinity, author and professor Dr. Elwood Watson spoke about this song at length,

“Daily, Scarecrow begs The Crows to liberate him so that he can pursue his quest for a brain, intellect development… The scene invokes African American experiences in the south and the ritual lynching of African American men. The Crows, however, have no intention of doing bodily harm to the Scarecrow – theirs is a more insidious violence… The Crow Commandments invokes the laws that forbid educating slaves… The Crows reinforce Scarecrow’s subjection at their hands through a song… that aims to disabuse Scarecrow of any aspirations toward freedom.

“The Crows are even more disadvantaged than Scarecrow because, unlike him, they are hopeless. The Crow’s chorus… reflects their disillusionment with their inability to realize the promise of upward mobility. The Crows are suspicious, and perhaps justifiably so, of optimistic political discourse that promise substantive change… The Crows, then, become symbolic of a potentially negative family dynamic, one that subjugates its members and does not encourage an exploration of alternative constructions of the self.”

Now it was funny that I heard this song yesterday, because just a few days before I read a quote that’s been in my craw ever since.

It was on the Instagram of Lilliluxe, a digital creator, that I follow on there.  Really pretty, and yes, that’s pretty much what 90% of my Instagram is, really pretty women.  The other 5% are friends.  Anyway, she said the other day,

“Personal story time… 🚨🚗 If you think there’s a better life out there for you… you’re right.
3 years ago I was at an all time low with depression living in Ohio and working in a corporate cubicle. I was earning money but the cost to my mental health was crippling. I was a sad panda that HAD to get OUT. My boss mercifully let me go and told me my contract would not be renewed. I started a Digital Nomad club in my city and started researching ways to make money online. I didn’t know how I would earn a living, but I knew that I wanted to be self employed and able to travel ✈️. I worked a few more corporate jobs, while continuing to model on the side. Little did I know, my modeling hobby that allowed me to express myself creatively and sensually, would eventually become my livelihood! 🇪🇸 Now, I am living in Spain, self employed, and haven’t stepped foot in an office in 2 years! I am grateful everyday for my life and for trusting that voice inside that said “There is something better for you” ❤️ Never ignore that voice!!”

After reading that, I immediately thanked Lilli.  I’ve been feeling in a rut as of late, and it was yet another kick in the pants I needed, and got me thinking.

How much negative talk do we succumb to?  How much negative talk do we impose on ourselves.  As Les Brown would say,

Yes Me!!!  Why not me?!?!?!

As I look back, I’ve lived out so many other peoples conclusions of who I am and what I should be doing.  That makes me sad as fuck.

But, today is another opportunity.  And I’m taking all the opportunities, creating doors, and making moves.

So step one is my podcast, which I’ve wanted to do forever.  Even if I get one listener, that’s more than I have today.

As an end note on The Wiz, To quote BroadwayBlack.com on an article on “The Wiz: Live”,

“In a New York Times articleThe Wiz playwright William F. Brown – who called the film version starring Diana Ross awful – discussed the song as being a “Black message song.” Brown, who is White, said: “But it’s all changed. Black people can win. And this is not a Black message show. It’s everybody’s show.” I think it’s pretty safe to say, that some Black people weren’t winning in the 70s. Should the thought be that Black people are winning in 2015, it might be necessary for some re-thinking. In light of the disturbing climate of race relations today, the song can take on a greater meaning when it is broadcast to millions of viewers.”

Brown no longer includes “You Can’t Win” in current incarnations of the musical The Wiz.  Which I vehemently disagree with, but to each their own.

See…all that thought from a night under the beautiful night sky at Millennium Park.  Oh yeah…it also rained most of the movie, and going into the last 1/3 of the movie, it started lightning and the movie was stopped.  However, up until that point, people were dancing and singing in the rain.  Now that’s the Chicago that I love.  A little rain don’t stop no party.

Are you a fan of the Wiz?   Have you actually seen the musical live?  Have you been to any of the films at Millennium Park this year? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments down below.  . 

Step 2, if you liked what you read here, SHARE IT WITH OTHERS!!!! 

Also, be sure to know every time I post a new entry by subscribing! Also, you can check out Reflections of a Chicago Life on Facebook.  I post a lot of articles and we can have some wicked discussions on there. Be sure to click “Like”. You can also check me out on Twitter, and see all the things I see around the city on Instagram, and it still bears repeating…it’s important to have STANDARDS!!

This post was created on an iPhone XR. 

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